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Shoguns, Samurai, and Japanese Culture

In our last lesson, we told you a little about the history of Japan from early times up until the beginning of "early modern Japan" in the 1800's. In this lesson, we are going to concentrate on the culture of medieval Japan (1185 - 1600), which was different from Japan's earlier classical period (which featured careful calligraphy, Zen gardens and tea ceremonies).

Medieval Japan is often compared to medieval Europe because of its warriors, castles and feudal structure. The Japanese samurai code is similar to the practice of chivalry by European knights. Feudal political organization, bonds between warriors and the prominence of religion were characteristic of the period in both Japan and Europe. Feudal Japan was dominated by warfare, destruction and militarism -- and samurai warriors became the rulers of the land. The influence of medieval Japan extended up through World War II (which ended in 1945) and echos of it can still be found in Japanese culture today.

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